Summit's Secret

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Summit coffee 0900

Then resident Harry Trubounis proposed opening a topless bar on Frisco's Main Street last year, controversy rocked the town. Dancers in G-strings don't really fit in with the town's mission statement of "preserving a family-oriented, mountain community." Scathing letters to the editor and outrage expressed at town meetings prompted the town council to hurriedly adopt a moratorium banning all adult businesses.

Trubounis fought back by filing a restraining order against the town, calling its move unconstitutional. Finally, last February, the Frisco Town Council lifted the moratorium and passed two ordinances. One severely restricted where sexually oriented businesses would be allowed and the other controlled how they would be licensed; together, they effectively derailed Trubounis' plans.

The fracas was just the latest headline-maker for Frisco, a small town of just over 3,000 residents that is notorious for its politically charged environment. It's best described as a cross between "Northern Exposure" and "Picket Fences"-a town with a delightful combination of civic-mindedness and whimsy. It's the kind of place where moose occasionally do meander down Main Street and where everyone knows everyone-and his or her business. Local debates during the past few decades have run the gamut from the sublime to the absurd. In 1994, the former mayor turned himself in to local authorities for making prank phone calls to a local newspaper publisher in the wee hours of the night. Another dispute concerned whether to allow hoofed animals to live within town limits after one resident complained that her neighbor's pet pot-bellied pig was affecting her desire to eat BBQ. (The pig was allowed to stay until its family's new home-outside the town limits-was completed .)

But Frisco has a very serious side, too-a side that compels locals to take an active role in shaping the town's future. As the rate of development continues to burgeon, maintaining a pristine mountain setting is the main goal here. Not surprisingly, the town's population has doubled in the past decade.

"The big concern for a community like Frisco is how to absorb all of the new values that come with all of these new people while maintaining all the values that people are coming here for," says Town Manager Clay Brown.

Located just 75 miles west of Denver, Frisco is easily accessible for second-homeowners and weekend warriors from Colorado's Front Range. And its central position in Summit County puts it within 15 miles of four world-class ski areas, including Copper Mountain just six miles west, Breckenridge nine miles south and Keystone and Arapahoe Basin about 15 miles east. Most locals head to Copper Mountain, due in part to convenience and great skiing and in part to loyalty. Copper was once the only non-corporate ski resort in the company of giants such as Vail Associates and Ralston Resorts. Many still feel an affinity toward the "little guy," even though Copper is now owned by resort behemoth Intrawest.

Bordered on the northwest side by Interstate 70, Frisco is comprised of two distinct streets that perfectly exemplify the dichotomy of the town. The quaint and aptly named Main Street is lined with small boutiques and locally owned restaurants, while the decidedly less idyllic, service-minded Summit Boulevard is home to Safeway, Wal-Mart, McDonald's and the like.

At last official count in 1999, there were 32 restaurants, 28 lodges and hotels, 124 retailers and 269 service providers, such as physicians, lawyers, property managers and contractors, in town.

The combination lures more than 3 million visitors each year, sometimes as many as 10,000 people a day. Most business happens during ski season, between December and March, although July and August are picking up with biking, hiking, fishing and boating on 3,300-acre Lake Dillon, which sits conveniently on the far side of Summit Boulevard at the east end of town. Those people who choose to stay permanenttly do so at a price. With 41 percent of residents holding at least a bachelor's degree, this is a well-educated community; however, most people are employed in the service industry, earning far less than six figures at local ski resorts, restaurants, retail centers and lodging establishments. In fact, the average annual wage in 1998 was just $22,620. But people seem willing to make the sacrifice. With the list of recreational opportunities ranging from skiing and ice climbing in the winter to mountain biking and kayaking in the summer, it's no wonder the average resident is a 31-year-old single male. However, the tide is turning, with children and retirement-age adults now making up about 25 percent of Frisco's population. And that number appears to be growing.

The high cost of living might be one reason demographics are starting to swing toward the older generation. Housing costs here are between 30 percent and 60 percent higher than many U.S. cities. The median price for a custom-built, single-family home in 2000 was $397,000, a staggering amount for a young couple employed in the service industry. But, because of the high values, about 80 percent of the housing in Frisco is in fact condominiums and multi-family dwellings, largely concentrated in the area south of Main Street at the base of spectacular 10,502-foot Mount Royal and the Ten Mile Range. Prices for these units, while still not cheap, are much more affordable at an average resale of $188,500.

Obviously real estate development of both trophy homes and condominium complexes means big business for Frisco. But, unlike many mountain communities that have fallen prey to unsightly sprawl, Frisco-save for Summit Boulevard and its necessary evils-has managed to maintain its the essence of its tranquil mountain setting.

Take the controversial "Peninsula," a stunning, 217-acre parcel of land that juts out into Lake Dillon. For years, developers have been frothing at the mouth with plans to convert the precious town-owned land. Proposals have ranged from a large, indoor ice arena to an 18-hole golf course. But, after discussing what to do with the prime real estate for the better part of a decade and holding two local elections to try to decide, the town council has been paralyzed into inaction.

"The council feels pressure from all of this growth," Brown says. "There's pressure on them and pressure on the community. And the issues seem to be a more contentious because the stakes are higher. The Peninsula is a difficult piece of property to deal with. Everyone is firmly entrenched in their beliefs about the property."

Now the Peninsula sits empty, save for 40 kilometers of crosscountry trails, the log cabin that houses the Frisco Nordic Center, two summer ballfields and a network of unpaved bikepaths.

The irony is that the Frisco council's indecisiveness has in effect preserved incredible recreation space for both residents and visitors to enjoy, suggesting savvy foresightedness rather than idle ineffectiveness. Small-town politics may just prove to be Frisco's best blessing in disguise.